007: Road to a Million Review – A James Bond Gameshow Nowhere Near Bond-y Enough

An adventure gameshow that doesn't feel adventurous or fun enough, in keeping with the Craig era's feeling of almost being ashamed to be connected to James Bond...

007: Road to a Million is a James Bond gameshow firmly entrenched in the Daniel Craig era. All the hallmarks are there: a fairly self-serious, po-faced tone; grim cinematography; shaky cam; a penchant for f-bombs. A gameshow based on the franchise is a strange move however it is executed but, even as a fan of the Craig era, it’s not the style that best fits this kind of format. I want a real sense of fun and adventure. A show with a twinkle in its eye, winking to camera, raising an eyebrow, in on the joke of what a ridiculous enterprise this all is. I want the Roger Moore gameshow. I want to see a plasterer from Stevenage forced to ski down a bobsleigh track while insane Bill Conti music plays.

Road to a Million has a secret weapon. A factor to put it above any competitor: the music. 25 films of phenomenal scores to pluck from and play over the contestants’ efforts. But they don’t plunder the 25 films, just the five Daniel Craig entries. What a waste. Those films have great soundtracks but why not expand the palette a little more? Hans Zimmer’s bombastic version of the Bond theme is a perfect fit – all the other gameshows have the pay the rights to use his Inception score instead – but there are so many other tracks to choose from. David Arnold delivers a new variation on the Bond theme for the credits but wasn’t he allowed to include some more themes from the back catalogue?

If only there were some great snake related musical motifs to play when contestants encounter snakes. Oh wait, there are, from Live and Let Die and Moonraker, but no, let’s use the same unrelated track from Casino Royale for everything. They don’t even bother to use the music from the tarantula scene in Doctor No for the tarantula task. Capsule in Space from You Only Live Twice is one of the greatest tension-building pieces of music in cinema history and they don’t use it once. It should be the music bed for half the show! There’s an underwater scuba task and not a second of the Thunderball score accompanies it. That’s criminal. The best we get are two very brief instances in the third episode, where music from The World is Not Enough and Moonraker are used for location establishing shots. That’s it!

Throughout the show’s eight episodes, I repeatedly questioned whether this was always intended to be a James Bond gameshow. Did they start filming it with only the vaguest of connections in case they couldn’t strike a deal with the Broccolis and had to brand it as something else? Do the contestants even know this is related to Bond? None of them mention it. One pair receives the passcode ‘Drax’ and don’t recognise the name; have they seen the films? For casual viewers I’m sure the show is much more engaging but for a huge Bond fan the series didn’t feel sufficiently Bond-y enough.

I’m shocked none of the questions were James Bond related. I thought this show would have teams of Bond fans competing against each other, proving their knowledge of the franchise while on a globe-trotting adventure. As it is, the contestants could reach the end of the show and not realise it’s a James Bond gameshow. It would be better even if there were just basic escape room elements that relied on Bond knowledge. Climbing a crane like Bond does in Casino Royale is as close as it gets. The sweatiest policemen you’ve ever seen are asked some unknowable art theft question that instead could have been about Goya’s Duke of Wellington painting that was stolen in real life and appears in Doctor No as if the villain himself had stolen it. Anything to add a little Bond flavour. As it stands, the locations are one of the few pieces of connective tissue to the films, from the real Goldeneye estate, Crab Key, and Kincade House, plus the occasional recreated prop like a Live and Let Die tarot card, or cars.

The show certainly improves as it continues, with bigger challenges and more spectacular vistas. It’s a big ask though, for people to sit through such a dull first episode. It’s like the first five Who Wants to be a Millionaire questions stretched over an hour. Usually quiz and gameshows rush through the first few incredibly easy questions to get to be meat quickly, but 007: Road to a Million acts as if it is just as interesting as any other part of the show. Sixty minutes of couples walking across fields in Scotland and spending ten minutes to work out that Macbeth is about a Scottish king. It’s hardly a James Bond adventure: I don’t remember seeing him aimlessly walk through marshes and then awkwardly clamber up a step ladder to the incredible danger of a second story window.

It’s hard not to compare the show to Race Across the World, which is far and away the best of this type of series. Road to a Million is similar but removes of all of the best aspects. I didn’t feel like this was a genuine journey for the contestants. It all feels too set up. Like they were driven and directed to each location and then told what to do when the cameras were off. At one point a couple drive a truck through a locked gate and we don’t see them actually do it, with no camera in the cab, so it reeks of being a lie, like so much of the show.

There’s no building of relationships, of getting to know each other better, or competitive edge between contestants. I’m sure they were constraints with how it was shot but the couples didn’t even meet each other. I was waiting for the remaining three to meet at the casino in the penultimate episode. And then there’s Brian Cox as ‘the Controller,’ pretending to ask questions and react to the contestants in real time even though his stuff was clearly all shot after the fact and edited-in during post production. It was all very cringey.

007: Road to a Million ends not with a bang but with a whimper. For a James Bond gameshow a shooting challenge is inevitable, but this was the worst way to do it. A silly laser gun (not the Moonraker kind) has to be used to shoot five targets in three minutes. But there is no beam or light or impact so it is impossible to see how close or far they are getting. I couldn’t tell if they were doing well or poorly until two teams are eliminated and the other then get asked a stupid question with too many multiple choices answers. Nobody wins, least of all the viewer.

It’s almost as if the producers didn’t want to give the money away because they spent it all on producing the show. There are no winnings available so they need to make sure there is no winner. Much like the Bond films themselves, I’m sure product placement pays for an awful lot, but the show looks so incredibly expensive. Despite my many complaints, I do think there’s a decent show inside 007: Road to a Million. With some tweaking, namely a greater connection to the films series it is apparently based on, and a sense of Roger Moore fun rather than Daniel Craig grimness (maybe that’s why the season ends with a completely unearned contextless clip from The Spy Who Loved Me), it could be the basis for a much improved second season. If they can afford to produce it.

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